Four Ways To Create A Vignette In Photoshop

Vignettes are a subtle way to guide the eye through a shot and here are four ways to create one.

09/03/2012 - 00:00

Here are the four methods we'll be using to create a vignette:

Black & White Whitby Shot

Original Image

Vignettes With The Marquee Tool

The most common way of creating a vignette is with the Marquee tool(s) which you then feather, inverse and darken the selected area as you'll see here:

Marquee ToolsSelect a Marquee tool, the Elliptical Marquee tool works best, and in the top tool bar find the Feather option. By inputting a value here you will basically soften your selection so the edges aren't as straight and harsh. In other words it blurs it slightly, making the transition between the selected and none selected areas more smooth and not as obvious. The amount you enter in the Feather Radius box depends on the size of the file. If it's a small file set a radius of around 50-100 pixels, if it's a large file set a larger radius.


To further smooth the selection when using the Elliptical Marquee tool make sure anti-aliased is ticked next to where you input a figure to change the feather options.

To draw out your shape press and hold your mouse button while you drag your shape out over the image. Once you let go the selection will look like it's moving, this means we are ready for the next step.


Next, go to Image>Inverse and the selection will switch so the outside of the image is now selected so when we apply the adjustment, the outside of the image will be the part that changes, adding a subtle frame to the shot.

To create the vignette you can make a Brightness / Contrast adjustment and simply drag the brightness slider to the right to darken the selection.

Inverse SelectionInverse
Brightness / Darkness Adjustment

Here's the image with the vignette applied:

Whitby Vignette

Lens Correction

First, duplicate your layer by either dragging the original layer over the new layer icon or by going to Layer>Duplicate Layer. We do this so we always have the original image to go back to and we can also apply a Layer Mask to the layer we are going to change to 'paint' back some of the original layer through on to the altered layer if we so need to later on.

Lens Correction

Next, go to filter>Distort>Lens Correction and a new window will open. In this new window you'll see various controls and a preview of our image (if preview is ticked) so we can see how the changes will effect it. It's the Vignette options we are interested in so all the rest can be ignored. If there's a gird over your image un-tick the Show Grid option at the bottom to remove it. By moving the Amount slider to the left you'll darken the vignette while moving it to the right will lighten it. We want quite a dark vignette to add mood to the shot so have pushed the slider quite a way to the left. By adjusting the midpoint slider the size of the vignette will grow / shrink depending on which way you drag the slider. Once you're happy with your changes, hit OK.

Lens Correction

We now have a vignette circling the edge of our image, however the effect is a little strong in places (part of the pier looks too dark for example) so we are going to use a Layer Mask (which we mentioned previously) to help rectify this.

To create a layer mask, click on the icon which has a circle sat in a rectangle in it at the bottom of the Layers Palette. Select the Brush tool, making sure the foreground colour is set to black and adjust its opacity and flow so it's not as strong. Then with a fairly large brush, paint over the parts of the image you want to bring back through. Where you paint over will show up in the Layer Mask.

Layer Mask

Here's the final image with a vignette created with the Lens Corrections options:

Vignette Lens Correction

Radial Gradient

Open your image up and create a new layer (Layer>New Layer) then make sure the foreground and background colours are set to white and black before selecting the Gradient tool. If you can't see the Gradient tool find the Paint Bucket tool and click on it to bring a menu up which will have the Gradient tool in.

Gradient Tools
Once selected, go to the top tool bar and select the Gradient option second from the left which shows a faded circle sat in a rectangle. This tool will form the basic shape for our vignette, with a white centre that fades gradually into a black edge.

With the new layer selected, draw a line over your image while holding down the left mouse button then let the mouse button go to apply the gradient. It can be a little hit and miss until you get the shape you're looking for but do be patient and stick with it. You can also go to Edit>Free Transform and drag the gradient out to fit by dragging the anchor points that appear around the shape if you can't quite create the shape you're looking for.


Our gradient is now in place but it's covering up our image. To fix this, go the the Layer Blend options, which can be found in a drop-down menu at the top of the Layers Palette, and change 'Normal' to 'Overlay' or 'Soft Light'. Feel free to try the other options too but we found either of these to work the best.

The image is now visible but the effect is a little too harsh and is still hiding parts of the image. To bring more of the image back through, change the Layer's opacity to around 50%.

Opacity lowered

Gradient Layers The shot's looking better but there's still some parts which are a little dark so to fix this we are going to apply a Layer Mask and 'paint' some of the detail from the original shot back through.

To create a layer mask, click on the icon which has a circle sat in a rectangle in it at the bottom of the Layers Palette. Select the Brush tool, making sure the foreground colour is set to black and adjust its opacity and flow so it's not as strong. Then with a fairly large brush, paint over the parts of the image you want to bring back through. We are using a soft, large brush as if we were to use a brush at full strength, the strokes we make wouldn't blend as well with the vignette. In our example, we've brought more of the second part of the pier back into view and have lightened the sea slightly.

As you can see the vignette has created a subtle frame that also gives the image more mood:

Vignette with gradients

Dodge and Burn tools

Dodge & Burn ToolsThese tools are something you can use to lighten (Dodge tool) or Darken (Burn tool) parts of an image. They're a useful tool for creating vignettes as they give you more flexibility over how the final vignette will look.

The changes you make are destructive so duplicate your layer so you can work on a copied layer as any adjustments you do make can't be easily removed without going in to the history tab and taking it back a few steps.

The strength of these tools is quite strong and will need adjusting before you begin. In a previous tutorial Robin Whalley suggested going right down to 3% so you can gradually build the effect up and we agree this is the best way to go. We are working with the Midtones as it generally works well but you can adjust this setting and play with the Shadows and Highlights if you want to.

Burn tool options

With the burn tool selected, pick a large, soft brush and begin painting over the areas you want to darken.

Dodge and Burn tools in use
The left image shows what the sky looked like before applying the Burn tool. The right shot shows what the sky looked like once the Burn tool was applied.

Here we've added a subtle vignette around the edge of the shot to draw the eye to the centre of it:

Vignette with Burn tool

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